Recurring E. Coli Outbreaks, but a Vaccine to Save Us All

E. coli poisoning is one of the most pressing issues facing our industrialized food system. Outbreaks have caused massive beef recalls, the most recent one from a company in upstate New York. However, there may be a new safeguard against the dangerous bacteria; preliminary testing for a new E. coli vaccine is taking place in Colorado, according to a recent New York Times article.

But this vaccine is not for humans, it’s for cows.

The vaccine is emblematic of a larger ethical issue involving the use of antibiotics in agriculture. Shockingly, as much as 70 percent of antibiotics in the United States are preemptively given to relatively healthy animals in factory farms. This seems a bit counterintuitive considering the recent shortage of swine flu vaccines. Why are we vaccinating our swine when we can barely vaccinate ourselves against the swine?

The problem is not the cow’s susceptibility to E. coli, it’s the conditions under which the cows are bred and slaughtered that are causing the contaminations. Negligence abounds. From the crowded factory farms to the chaotic processing plants, the scenes are monstrous.

So why are we treating the symptoms of the problem, rather than addressing the problem directly?

Preventative antibiotics and vaccines would not be necessary if we farmed and processed in a more sustainable way, beneficial to the animals’ and our health. Rather than shoveling money into an agriculture vaccine, perhaps the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture should invest their funds and time in sustainable farming practices and give our current system a much needed facelift.

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